100 ATRO #78: British slang

If you didn’t already know, ATRO stands for Awesome Things Rip-Off because I totally ripped off the idea from this guy.

Man it’s been ages since I last did one of these! I’m an Awesome Things Rip-Off slacker.

Anyway, now that a lot of our favorite shows are on summer hiatus (except for Breaking Bad, True Blood, and Louie of course) MB and I have been watching a few British shows off Hulu, Netflix, and, ahem, by other means.  I love these shows not just because of shots of London, the cursing, nudity, and, the sometimes better acting.  I love picking up on British slang and differences in casual conversation.

For instance, on Law & Order UK and Luther, they say copper for police officer.  Copper seems to be said in old American movies, but nowadays U.S. crime dramas use cop or officer, or like on The Wire, PO-lice, as in “He’s good PO-lice.” The British copper seems to have the same sentiment – someone who’s a police officer not just in occupation but to the very bone (by the way, Idris Elba who plays bad guy Stringer Bell in The Wire plays copper John Luther in Luther).

For the longest time, MB and I couldn’t figure out what DS was, till finally he figured it out: “Detective Sergeant!”  (In the U.S. it’s just detective.)  “All right?” people say instead of “How are you?” or “What’s up?” which I first heard in the Harry Potter movies.  Same with mental, crazy, or ment-ul.  There’s ending sentences in yeah? which seems like our equivalent of ending sentences in right?  “You were at your mum’s all night, yeah?”

Then there’s the name calling, which the misfits in Misfits are fond of.  Wanker.  Tosser.  Twat.  Prick (which Americans use too).  There’s fanny, which on the this side of the pond is a prim way of referring to the ass, but over there actually means vagina (note to self: do not refer to my fanny when in London).   When the misfits talked a about fancy dress party, I automatically thought formal or black tie.  Wrong!  Fancy dress is what we’d call costume or masquerade.

There’s “It’s not down to you,” like American English’s “It’s not up to you.”  “Are you finished with me?” instead of “Are you breaking up with me?”  “Are you taking a piss?” seems to be the same as “Are you joking around?”  “Are you dicking around with me?” seems to be a more hostile version of “Are you taking a piss?”

It’s also interesting to see the differing degrees of slang between the shows.  Sherlock and Torchwood seem to have less while Misfits has a lot, which I love, as well as a couple of accents I can barely understand (Kelly, I’m looking at you).

I know there’s tons more slang and colloquialisms I’m not aware of, and you bet your fanny, uh I mean ass, I’ll be writing them down.


  1. Hello! You probably knew I’d be along…almost 100% spot on. Nice one! I’ll be back later.

  2. Hey Ang! I really liked Luther and hope there’s another season. B and I had lots of discussions about why Luther always had the most deranged cases to solve. I can’t resist sharing one term that doesn’t translate well across the pond: bummed. When my sister lived in London and told a friend that she was bummed (down), he had a big laugh! He told her that she might not want to say that again because it means taking it up the a**!

  3. OK, Angela, hi! You’ve picked up quite a bit. I’m not sure about “It’s not down to you” – like you we’re more likely to say “It’s not up to you,” meaning “The decision isn’t yours to make.”

    “It’s not down to you” might mean something like “Your circumstances are not the primary consideration in this situation”…or it might be just the same as “It’s not up to you.” Anyway.

    “You’re taking a piss.” Ah, now. It’s “taking THE piss” – taking a piss is American (although it’s increasingly used over here) and means, of course – urinating.

    You need the definite article here. I bought a can of beans from the corner shop which was clearly marked MULTIPACK CAN NOT FOR SALE SEPARATELY. They were taking the piss. They’re piss-takers.

    Let’s see if the HTML worked.

  4. If you want to sample some very funny and inventive swearing I recommend the film In the Loop.

  5. […] Misfits is an awesome one. Imagine Heroes but not sucky, and with sometimes hard to understand British slang and accents. And […]